Rep. Steve Lebsock expelled from the Colorado House in historic vote after drama-filled day

Emotional debate about sexual harassment, bullet-proof vests and an eleventh-hour party affiliation switch highlighted a historic day in the Colorado House of Representatives.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
Rep. Steve Lebsock testifies before the legislature as it discusses a resolution to expel him following allegations of sexual harassment. (Esteban Hernandez/Denverite)

Rep. Steve Lebsock testifies before the legislature as it discusses a resolution to expel him following allegations of sexual harassment. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The Colorado House of Representatives expelled Rep. Steve Lebsock in a 52-9 vote Friday afternoon.

This is the first time in more than a century that a state lawmaker has been expelled from the General Assembly.

Lawmakers expressed surprise at the outcome of the vote, which at the start of the day was widely expected to go in favor of Lebsock, who was a Democrat until late in the day’s proceedings — more on that later.

Afterward, Rep. Faith Winter, who is among the women who came forward and made public allegations against Lebsock, said she felt relief. Friday’s decision sent “a strong signal to women in this building that their voices are valued, they’re welcomed here and they’re an important part of democracy.”

“My whole decision to come forward was to stop this from happening to other women and today was a completion of that,” she said. “Time’s up. It’s time for women to be treated equally and fairly and respected for our ideas and not just our gender.”

The House spent much of Friday in unprecedented, often personal discussion of a resolution to expel Lebsock  following 11 allegations of sexual harassment.

“Today is not about sex. It’s about power,” Winter said. “Sexual harassment is about power, and the power that this individual wielded over others.”

Several of the allegations had been found to be credible in a third-party investigation.

“We’re talking about a workplace,” Winter said later in the proceedings. “We’re talking about a workplace that has turned so hostile… that people that stand for me fear for their life.”

Letters from three of Lebsock’s accusers were read by House members. They included a letter read by Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, who voted yes on the expulsion, and penned by Cassie Tanner, Kraft-Tharp’s former legislative aide who has accused Lebsock of inappropriate behavior. Each time a letter was read, House members and attendants in the House gallery rose.

Lebsock was among those who stood when Winter spoke, calling for his expulsion.

Rep. Lang Sias, a Republican who voted to expel, called for a “thorough process” and to provide Lebsock an opportunity to speak, which at that point, he had already done twice.

Lebsock first spoke in the morning, calling into question parts of the investigation into the allegations against him and reminded his colleagues that he is owed due process.

“There has been a severe lack of due process, since the beginning on Nov. 10, 2017,” Lesbock said, referring to a date when allegations surfaced.

Much of the testimony throughout the day was emotional. Rep. Matt Gray, a Democrat, had to be asked to remain calm after he raised his voice and Rep. Alec Garnett, also a Democrat, said he was wearing a bullet-proof vest because he feared retaliation. Both voted in favor of expulsion.

The scene was an unprecedented public conversation held by elected officials who spoke, one after another, about their own personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault. They included Rep. Chris Hansen, who shared a story about his wife’s sexual assault, and several female lawmakers who said they had experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault in their lives.

Again and again, the lawmakers — most from his own party — characterized Lebsock’s actions as retaliatory, intended to discredit the women who had leveled allegations against him.

Lebsock made what appeared to be his final plea for his colleagues to “vote your conscience” at about 3:40 p.m.

He repeated his initial claims, but he grew emotional after citing his colleagues mentioning they wore bulletproof vest for fear of retaliation. As an honorably discharged veteran, Lebsock said he would have protected his colleagues.

He said he wished he could have hired an attorney. He said if anyone wanted to talk to him after the vote, he would be happy to do.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran said shortly before the vote that she felt like some of the victims who came forward.

“The truth is this is not (solely) about us,” Duran said. “But just like dust, we must rise. We must rise to do what is right for the integrity of our institution. For the people of Colorado. And I respectfully, and with honor, ask you to resign.”

After being asked to resign by Duran, Lebsock returned and spoke. He repeated his refrain to colleagues to “vote your conscience.”

“I wish all the best for the accusers,” Lebsock said. “It’s been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado. I was willing to fight for the people of Colorado.”

Press surround Rep. Faith Winter following the House vote expelling Rep. Steve Lebsock. (Esteban Hernandez/Denverite)

Press surround Rep. Faith Winter following the House vote expelling Rep. Steve Lebsock. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Late in the day, Lebsock added another twist when he changed parties just in time to be kicked out of the House.

Not long after the vote, Colorado Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels tweeted that Lebsock changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on his voter registration at 3:17 p.m.

That raises questions about who has the right — Democrats or Republicans — to fill his seat. The Colorado Republican Party tweeted Friday night that it believes it has the right to fill the seat, but left open the possibility of declining to do so.

On the first day of the legislative session earlier this year, as Democrats made statements about confronting sexual harassment allegations, Lebsock tweeted at noted Republican insider Rick Enstrom, “I will not caucus with House dems this session. Thank you to several Republican House members coming up to me and giving me hugs.”

Following the 52-9 vote to expel him, there were hugs exchanged by committee members and audible weeping from some representatives.

The nine representatives who voted no on the resolution were all Republicans: Perry Buck, Justin Everett, Stephen Humphrey, Kimmi Lewis, Patrick Neville, Kim Ransom, Judy K. Reyher, Lori Saine and Shane Sandridge.

Four representatives were excused from the vote: Jon Becker (R), Marc Catlin (R), Yeulin Willett (R) and Lebsock himself. The Denver Post reported that Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican, attempted to be excused after saying she wasn’t ready to vote. Her request was voted down; she voted yes on the resolution.

The last time a lawmaker was expelled from the General Assembly was in 1915, for perjury.

Ashley Dean contributed to this report.